IN the race to become a world-class city, Kuala Lumpur is moving towards a new era focused on reliable and strategic public transportation, similar to what is available at other major cities
One aspect of a good public transportation system is a good pedestrian network which connects the transport stations to places where people need to go.
Kuala Lumpur was identified in the Federal Government’s Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) as being pedestrian-unfriendly with no linkages between buildings, have poor continuity and lack of access for the physically challenged as well as the elderly.
Kuala Lumpur City Hall’s (DBKL) Urban Transportation Department was appointed to address this and create a comprehensive pedestrian network by upgrading 42 kilometres of walkways into barrier-free, disabled-friendly ones by 2020.
The target was to provide a safe and comfortable walking experience to those in high pedestrian traffic zones namely around transportation hubs.
Among the approaches used to achieve this is by formulating policies that saw walkways having inclined entrances, anti-climb fences to minimise potential criminal opportunities and tactile paths for the blind.
The good news is that DBKL has upgraded 48.9km worth of walkways as of last year, using less than half the time allotted to them to finish the job.
On paper, this should mean that pedestrians are now enjoying a pleasant and safe walk in the city or at least where they have upgraded the sidewalks.
Having lived in the city centre for the last five years, expatriate Rob Holbrook describes the situation as not entirely hopeless but a number of improvements are still needed.
“I jog, walk and cycle around KL, even to work.
“The fact that I still do that shows that it is possible. It is all about finding the best routes,” said the English teacher who is in his early 40s.
Among the common problems he comes across are missing drain covers thanks to thieves contributing to the scrap metal business and high kerbs that forces him to push his baby’s pram on the road or awkwardly lift it on or off the walkway.
Investment banker Eng H.Y., 28, travels to Jalan Raja Chulan every day by bus for the last few years and is also one who has learnt to go with the flow.
“Walking is all right on dry days but when it rains, the uneven pavements will have puddles everywhere.
“There are the road junctions I have to cross which sometimes feels more like wading across a mini flood,” she said, adding that tiled walkways also tend to have broken or missing tiles.
Rudy Seah, 22, who just started working as a management trainee in the Dang Wangi area, said that the situation on the street was still not safe for at least half the public.
“Walking during the day is fine but after the sun sets, it starts to feel dodgy as many places are still not well lit.
“I also know of a female colleague who gets harassed with catcalls when she walks to the train station at night,” he said.
He also had his fair share of missing tiles and undulating pavements that becomes slippery after a downpour.
Nurnisham Mohd Ali, 28, an engineer who works around the KL Sentral area, found walking in that area so unpleasant that he was willing to skip lunch than go out.
“Everything looks nice but it seems like it was built without consideration as to how people actually use it.
“Take the road leading from Brickfields to KL Sentral for instance. I see lots of people dashing across its multiple lanes to get to the road divider and then repeat the same feat to get to the other side.
“The option is to take the pedestrian bridge to cross Jalan Tun Sambanthan, walk down the road and then take another pedestrian bridge back across the same road.
“One option is dangerous but shorter while the other involves walking much further. It’s just too troublesome either way,” he said.
“This place is supposed to be the main public transportation hub of KL so I find it very surprising that it is so challenging for pedestrians,” he added.
A check by StarMetro found another common problem for pedestrians in the city — vehicles parked on walkways which forces people onto the road to get around the obstruction.
Motorcycles, cars and even small lorries have been spotted all over the city, parked on its spacious new walkways with some even paying to do it, thanks to parking touts.
Some of these walkways are already sporting cracks. There are also places where people continue to jaywalk rather than walk along the redone pavements to the nearest crossing.
According to the annual ETP report card, DBKL will be conducting a survey this year to gain a quantitative gauge on the safety perception and overall feedback on the upgraded walkways which may result in more walkways upgraded.
The number of pedestrians in the city is expected to escalate thanks to rising costs of living and the expansion of public transportation such as the MRT
Upgrading the walkways in light of this seems like a step in the right direction but the question remains whether the project was successful considering the number of problems still faced by those who use them on a daily basis.